Does Editing Kill your Creativity?

I’m closing in on the end of my manuscript, with just five or six thousand words yet to write. I am SO excited about that! And even though I haven’t quite made it to the end yet, I’m already starting to look back at the process that got me here, comparing my methods with those of other writers I know.

I love to read my friends’ blogs—I learn so much about how different people approach the challenges of writing that way. I recall one friend in particular, Sheila McClune, writing about her difficulties switching between “writer head” and “editor head.” Once she stopped working on her first draft to go back and edit, she had a terrible time beginning to write again. That internal editor just wouldn’t shut up and let her create.

One would think I would have learned from her experience and avoided editing until I had a completed draft in hand. But no.

From the very beginning, I’ve been obsessively editing and seeking feedback to help me identify my personal foibles. Some chapters have already been through multiple rounds of revision and more than a dozen beta readers. I know writers who would cringe at the idea of letting so many cooks spoil the broth.

So was it a mistake? I don’t think so. As long as you get to your goal, it’s all good, right? No doubt I could have completed a first draft more quickly, but since this is my first attempt at a novel, I was on the steep part of the learning curve. Having that ongoing feedback helped me identify mistakes early on, and my writing improved immensely because of it. I may eat these words in a few months, but I’m hoping that means I’ll have less of a mess to clean up when I officially enter the revision stage.

The biggest thing I have learned is that every writer is different, and no single approach works for everyone. So how about you? Do you edit as you go or wait until your first draft is finished? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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35 thoughts on “Does Editing Kill your Creativity?

  1. dwight keen

    Sharon, I usually wait till the end of the manuscript to do my editing. But there are times when I do a little spelling correcting but never edit till the end. What I had a hard time with is getting punctuation right. I was never good at English and am having to learn how to do this over again. Sometimes I let others read my work to have a second set of eyes tell me if it makes sense or not. This is always a big help. As to the editing thing, whatever floats the writer’s boat is the way I look at it, but for me, I like to create and then edit, I find that it helps me add to more of the story and doesn’t in inhibit my creative flow.

    Reply
  2. hollyda

    This is completely subjective. Some people can edit as they go and still make headway. Others simply cannot. Personally, I relate more with your friend and her “editor head” and “writer head”, which is made no easier by the fact that the bulk of what I do with raw work is edit. When you spend most of your time immersed in edits, it can be very difficult to get yourself out of that headspace…and for me, and many others, editing and writing are only cosmetically related fields. One is about creativity, expression, and art. The other is about structure, correctness, flow, and delivery. So yes, it is very, very difficult for me, as an editor, to write after I’ve been editing a long time. I must – must – must force myself not to over-analyze every noun, rethink my verbs, or worry over weak-ass imagery, because the time and place to worry about these things doesn’t come until I have a manuscript to butcher.

    I feel when I’m in my element, I can do both the creative and the technical parts well. But fluidity between the two headspaces is damn near impossible to achieve without losing my footing. If you can self-edit as you go without losing steam, more power to you. That’s awesome. I can’t. I’ll be working and reworking and tweaking and correcting a ten word sentence when I could have applied that energy into a thousand other words. Lay the skeletal foundation of my book, only to layer on the good stuff on a next pass. I envy anyone who can do both simultaneously, and do it well.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Exactly, Holly! Every writer is different. I’m very structured to begin with, laying that skeletal foundation in notes and outlines before I write, so it may be easier for me to switch back and forth. That said, I think there were plenty of times when I sacrificed larger progress while I fretted over a single sentence. What I’ve been doing seems to have worked, but I’m not about to argue that it was efficient.

      Reply
      1. hollyda

        I used to take rigid notes and make comprehensive outlines, and when I can I still do. For me, every time I stare at the blinking cursor at the head of my WIP, my grasp of the English language grows a little pair of wings and flitters away. So in order to get words on the page, I give myself permission to write crap. Crap can be polished later. I’d rather have crap to wade through. 😉

      2. S. D. Keeling Post author

        I love that, especially coming from a professional editor. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten the ball rolling by chanting, “Embrace the suck. It’s okay to be bad.” Okay, that sounds a lot dirtier than it did in my head. 😉

      3. hollyda

        Ha! Well, dirty will sell books too. 😉

        My philosophy is, as long as you know the difference between a first draft and a final draft, perfection shouldn’t be a goal during round 1. The goal should be getting to the end.

        Hope to see you Saturday.

  3. Lisa Medley

    When I reread through my work after a few days of missed writing, I can’t help but edit as I go. I’m too afraid I’ll miss something later. But when I’m in the groove, I just go and make it as pretty as I can while trying not to over-analyze things too much. You are absolutely right though. Each writer has to find her own path.

    Reply
  4. selfxt

    Hi Sharon….okay this is a great boat & I wanna sail in it.

    Write then edit: end of story BUT you can “satisfy” your hunger for perfection by editing the last paragraph (ONLY one paragraph) just to stir the juices as you begin your next writing session. And then don’t look back. Soon the page is turned and you have not morphed into a block of salt.

    i have a little edit tool based on the standard PC edit tool on every word doc. It is VERY helpful. I can email it to if you mail me your permission to qwayrod@mweb.co.za

    Thank you for the post & keep creating

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Come on in! Plenty of room in the boat.

      That sounds like great advice. Maybe I’ll be able to use that to curb my perfectionism and speed up my drafting on the second book. And I’d love to take a look at your edit tool.

      Reply
  5. Melanie Stinnett

    I took my book in three main sections. I got feedback after writing each section and edited at that point. I think it helped to create a good flow because I tend to write scenes and then put them together instead of writing chronologically. Since this is my first novel, the extra sets of eyes were great encouragement and motivation to improve. You are right, though. It is so different for every writer.

    Reply
  6. Cara Bristol

    I don’t edit until I’m done with the first draft. I don’t want to lose momentum. I think it probably depends on whether you are a pantser or a plotter. If you’re a hardcore plotter, you can edit as you go. If you’re a pantser, how can you edit until you know what the story is, which you don’t know until the end? On my current WIP, I “discovered” my subplot 50K words into a 60K manuscript. If I had edited the early draft, I’d still have to rework it.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      That makes a lot of sense, Cara. I envisioned the whole story while I was riding around on the boat last summer. I imagine it would be a colossal waste of time for pantsers to edit as they go.

      Reply
  7. Katherine Hajer

    I don’t think editing kills creativity at all — it too is part of the process, and therefore must needs be welcomed as a creative task. That said:

    I usually do some lightweight line editing at the end of each scene on the first draft — spell-checking, ensuring there are no wrong or missing words, that sort of thing. What I don’t do is polish until it’s “perfect”, because “perfect” is going to slide around until the story is done. I learned on a web serial I finished last spring that what seemed like a throwaway detail in one scene can become a useful touchpoint later on.

    Reply
  8. Barbara Bettis

    I admire anyone who can wait until the entire first draft is finished. When I read to “get into” the story from one day to the next, like Lisa, I find myself editing some. Unfortunately, I used to have the idea that if the beginning was ‘right’ then everything would flow from there and I spent a lot of time angsting over the first few pages. I’ve learned that’s not the case. So I try not to be too focused on making everything perfect because I know I’ll go back and make changes once the story is further along. What does halt my movement is entering contests, when I try to polish and perfect the first pages to send. I’ve found that does throw me off, so I enter extremely few these days. Good conversation, Sharon. Thanks :>)

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      That is so true, Barb. I wrote and polished just enough of my “practice” novel to enter the Weta Nichols competition one year, and couldn’t write any more after that. I ended up abandoning that story entirely, even though I had the whole thing researched and plotted.

      Reply
  9. wanda

    I’m a pantser, so I write, write, write. Then edit, edit, edit. To tell you the truth, I like editing better. The creation is hard for me.

    Reply
  10. miamarlowe

    I edit as I go. That way if I had to, I could turn the manuscript in when I type “the end.” However, in a perfect world, I finish far enough ahead of my deadline to lay it aside for a few weeks. Then after my beta reader has made her suggestions, I give it another pass or two. But that’s in a perfect world…

    Reply
  11. Krista

    I am working on my first manuscript and find it much more harmonious to edit as I go. I have thought about what it would be like to simply write until the end…and, truthfully, I find it quite frightening. I think I would be so overwhelmed with the amount of work left to be done that I would be at risk for a break-down.

    That being said, there are some things that cannot be forced, and I allow myself to go on if a sentence or paragraph isn’t working and I begin to get frustrated. After a cool down period (maybe days, maybe months) it will usually come to me and all will be well again.

    And, indeed, what an interesting conversation! Thanks, everyone.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Krista, this is my first manuscript, as well. How far along are you?

      For the first 10-15 chapters, I had to skip past the parts that were bogging me down–particularly descriptions. I would leave behind “red words” like “describe palace” to remind me of the parts I needed to fill in later. That really helped me keep things moving at the time, but I’ve noticed that the last few chapters I haven’t needed to do that anymore. Writing has become easier, and now I just write it and move on.

      Reply
      1. Krista

        I have a color system as well, but I am using it for plot direction instead of editing purposes. That’s a good idea…I should give that a try.

        I shouldn’t even be allowed to call it an outline, such as it is. So, without that, my over-all feeling for the story is to say that I am about a third into it (a third that is as polished and edited as my current level of experience allows). My idea and plot development have been brewing for a few years now, as it came and went to its satisfaction, but I have been faithfully (sometimes forcefully) working on it this past year.

        At times I feel restrained by the descriptions of surroundings. I have difficulty weaving it into the story in a way that would keep the reader from a sense of “pause story, begin description.” As a reader, I am usually bored with descriptive narration (with the exception of Robin McKinley…she can write a story that is mostly descriptions and internal monologue, and I am bespelled. Deerskin, specifically.)

        I find that I have to trust my instinct, and sometimes just let it go. My imagination does not require a significant amount of description, and so I have to believe there are others like me out there, just waiting for a story that does not get bogged down by world-building.

        I could talk all day about this stuff with questions about creative writing, plot development, character development, world-building, descriptive writing…the list goes on and on. When I asked my father one day about some of these things, he said to me: “There is a reason it is called a craft, Krista.”

        Ok, I’ll stop rambling now.

      2. S. D. Keeling Post author

        Ramble away! I love it!

        Joining Ozarks Romance Authors would be an excellent next step for you. I’ve learned so much from that group. Bring a chapter to a critique session and get feedback from other writers on whether you’re including enough description or not. We’re so close to our own work, it’s hard to tell whether we’re achieving the right balance or not.

  12. AMBuxton

    I think your process worked great. If it had kept you from finishing then maybe not. I think I might need to finish a first draft (or at least have a strong handle) on it before I can let any other “cooks” in the kitchen.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Thanks, Amanda. Whatever works, right? I’m hoping the next book can move faster than this one did, and less editing along the way would help with that. I think it was important for me this first time, though. All that feedback helped me identify bad habits and change them before they filled my whole manuscript.

      Reply
    2. selfxt

      closing in on the end…Sharon focus on the next 1000 words not the million that came before.
      Stay IN your characters and they will guide you to the end.

      after a big HOORAY and several links to that glass of wine you can go back and end it all again….then play with the boys in the park.

      xx keep the writ going

      Reply
  13. Cynthia Reeg

    Sounds like you’re doing well with your first manuscript. And as so many of your commenters prove, everyone does it differently. Whatever works. I like to do a super simple outline before I start a manuscript and that helps prevent writer’s block. Then I usually read through the chapter I’ve written the day before and do minor editing to get back into the writing groove the next day. It’s a tough call to let others read the WIP, but I’ve found usually it helps to point out problems I already suspected or give me a few pats on the back for what’s working.
    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      That sounds like a good method, Cynthia. I hate it when people point out problems I kind of already knew existed. Then I really know they’re right!

      Reply

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